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Group IQ Doesn’t Exist
Smart groups are (simply) groups of smart people.
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Group discussion Few things attract more attention in the business world than new ways of making groups work well. As any fool knows, groups are a pain. They argue, dither, drift off course, waste time and resources, and produce loads of rubbish. Worse, all those participants draw salaries, so treasure is wasted. Surely, bosses think, any technique that promises to make groups productive will be better than what they have now: a dysfunctional collection of pointless individuals, wasting their time by rushing off in aimless directions? They reject the absurd notion that one person should do the job, and that the dysfunctional team should be disbanded. Leadership: that is what is required, they proclaim.

So, the poor hapless managers are sent off to Leadership courses, and come back with interesting theories which get nowhere, because the rest of the staff have not been sent off to Followership courses. Leaders always require followers. While everyone loves Leadership courses, being recommended for a Followership course would probably cause great offence. A pity. It is fatal to any enterprise when people can neither command nor obey.

While the supposed leaders have been away at an expensive hotel ,the remaining staff have sorted out the problem to their own satisfaction, sometimes with good effect, and most often by cobbling together a patch to protect their own interests. So, it is with grim satisfaction that one learns of Group Performance Enhancement Theory No 347, namely that people working in groups on complex problems:

“show a strong general-ability or IQ factor, with significant differences between groups on this factor. Surprisingly, group-IQ, or “collective intelligence” is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.

So, if I have understood this correctly, the individual IQs do not matter too much, so long as the group is socially sensitive, takes turns in speaking, and includes women. Personally, having heard this proposal I would have thought it unlikely. Bates and Gupta, however, are truer to the spirit of empiricism, and embody Carl Sagan’s injunction (my summary) that scientists should be kind to hypotheses and tough on proofs.

What is more, since the original study by Woolley et al in 2010 was cited over 700 times, this finding is likely to be the cornerstone of a myriad of training courses, as participants attempt to be sensitive, willing to wait their turn, and womanly. Bates and Gupta have bothered to find out if collective intelligence (group IQ) actually exists. They point out:

For some time, it has been known that work-groups whose team-members have higher IQ out-perform teams of less-able members (Devine & Philips, 2001). Against this background, Woolley et al. (2010) asked whether groups themselves exhibit a general-factor of intelligence, if this might be distinct from individual IQ, and, if so, what the origins of such a collective intelligence might be.

To assess group-IQ, subjects were allocated to small groups and performed tasks including brainstorming, matrix reasoning, moral reasoning, planning a shopping trip, and collaborative text editing. They did all this in 3 studies, so there is a lot of detail in the paper about the findings from their individual studies, and further work on the combined results, usually studies 2 and 3. Woolley et al. (2010) came to the conclusions described above, namely that it is the collective IQ which develops (due to sensitivity, turn taking in conversation, and women members) which is important, and not the IQ of the members of the group. Bates and Gupta sum up the findings of their replication thus:

What allows groups to behave intelligently? One suggestion is that groups exhibit a collective intelligence accounted for by number of women in the group, turn-taking and emotional empathizing, with group-IQ being only weakly-linked to individual IQ (Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, Hashmi, & Malone, 2010). Here we report tests of this model across three studies with 312 people. Contrary to prediction, individual IQ accounted for around 80% of group-IQ differences. Hypotheses that group-IQ increases with number of women in the group and with turn-taking were not supported. Reading the mind in the eyes (RME) performance was associated with individual IQ, and, in one study, with group-IQ factor scores. However, a well-fitting structural model combining data from studies 2 and 3 indicated that RME exerted no influence on the group-IQ latent factor (instead having a modest impact on a single group test). The experiments instead showed that higher individual IQ enhances group performance such that individual IQ determined 100% of latent group-IQ. Implications for future work on group-based achievement are examined.

After doing their 3 studies and re-analysing the results, they conclude: Smart groups are (simply) groups of smart people. By contrast, we found little to no evidence for two proposed causes of group-IQ: numbers of women in the group and turn-taking, and found evidence for a weak and specific impact of RME on one group task, but not on latent group-IQ.

Here is the relationship between the IQs of the individuals in the group, and the resultant group intelligence. If particular group IQs develop, then the group IQs will differ from the mere sum of the individual IQs. In fact, there is a close match.

Collective and individual IQ

Here are all their results summarised in a best fitting model.

Collective IQ depends on individual IQ

Individual’s IQs lead to the group average IQ, which explains the performance the group achieves on all of the tasks. On one task, Missing letters, the Mind in the Eyes task makes a small additional contribution. They add:

The present findings cast important doubt on any policy-style conclusions regarding gender composition changes cast as raising cognitive-efficiency.

Their findings should not be interpreted as meaning that groups are useless. On the contrary, given that the management of clever people is so important for success, care must be taken to let the best thinkers concentrate on the hardest problems. Also, it implies that organizations should pay close attention to the intelligence of their staff members, and very probably to pay more attention to the opinions of their brighter workers.

And there the silly story would end, but there is a sting in the tail. Not only was the original paper cited 700 times, but it was cited without the benefit of a replication. All researchers may be tempted to do that, particularly when a study buttresses a position they like. However, since so many psychological studies fail to replicate, there is now general agreement that replications should be given as much attention as the original claims. So, how did reviewers respond to Bates and Guptas’s replication? With considerable reservations, it appears.

While every paper has to run the gauntlet of reviewer criticism, this one seems to have experienced unusual opposition. In their discussion section the authors reply to the objections raised by unnamed reviewers. A reviewer complained about lack of statistical power, but the main analysis of studies 2 and 3 had a power of 95%. This is a technical discussion, but I think the reviewer got it wrong.

A reviewer judged that the replication was not a replication. Bates and Gupta used the same IQ tests, the same test of empathy, and those tests of successful team work which had best shown the effects which Woolley et al. claimed in the original research. Looks like a replication to me.

Turn-taking was measured by a simpler technique in the replication, but turn-taking was not shown to be independently predictive of group IQ, rendering the point moot.

An anonymous reviewer suggested that (paraphrasing) there clearly must be an unidentified moderator which accounts for why individual IQ and collective intelligence correlated so strongly. Readers should evaluate this claim for themselves. It is far from clear to us that an unidentified moderator “must” exist.

Bates and Gupta were polite, but they could have responded “You show us why you think there has to be a moderator. Evidence, please”.

A friend of the authors, speaking to me in a dark car park on condition of reviewer-type anonymity, said:

The back story is that this paper went through 4 revisions, in which one reviewer every time demanded 10, 20, or even 38 new changes, none of which involved a single new analysis. They demanded that Bates and Gupta remove study 2, remove variables, include a statement that they had not done a replication, and conclude that this area is vigorous and needs more research. They claimed the work was sloppy, error-filled, and so under-powered no one should publish it. They suggested that no peer-reviewed journal would ever publish such awful work. So, if you think science is an efficient hunt for the truth…Think again.

The impression I get is that the reviewers were being unreasonable, and even obstructive.

You might like to look at this link:

All this further silliness aside, in what I consider to be one of the most important findings about team work, the authors identify a crucial result:

It is interesting also that groups did not perform better than individuals – a genuine group-IQ might be expected to enable problem solving to scale linearly (or better) with number of subjects. In group-IQ tasks, coordination costs appear to prevent group problem-solving from rising even to the level of a single individual’s ability. This implicates not only unsolved coordination problems, which are well-known barriers to scale (Simon, 1997) but also reiterates the finding that the individual problem-solver remains the critical reservoir of creativity and novel problem solution (Shockley, 1957).

So, if you want a problem solved, don’t form a team. Find the brightest person and let them work on it. Placing them in a team will, on average, reduce their productivity. My advice would be: never form a team if there is one person who can sort out the problem.

As regards team work and collective intelligence, another idea bites the dust, at least until a new hypothesis comes along, claiming you can boost team productivity by a training in…(insert something warm and friendly).

No teams were assembled to write this post.

• Category: Science • Tags: Group Intelligence, IQ, Team Performance 
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  1. Great Man model of history reaffirmed?

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  2. OutWest says:

    Group dynamics, a misnomer. I at one time negotiated rather complicated and abstract intellectual property licensing agreements. A very bright person –preferable one- on the other side was a godsend. A negotiating committee could be made to work with practice and areas of expertise and/or responsibility, but usually didn’t.

    • Replies: @Tim Bates
  3. res says:

    So, if you want a problem solved, don’t form a team. Find the brightest person and let them work on it. Placing them in a team will, on average, reduce their productivity. My advice would be: never form a team if there is one person who can sort out the problem.

    There is much truth in this, but I can’t fully agree (the last sentence is a good start on capturing my objections though). I think small teams can be beneficial. Clearly so by adding additional knowledge base and perspective (e.g. if there is one person). But also by enabling a type of discovery that is difficult for most (all?) people solo. As much as I prefer to do the bulk of my work alone, I find smart coworkers/collaborators invaluable for exploring and evaluating ideas and maximizing my own motivation and creativity. At the end of the day humans are social animals and I find few things more inspirational than being challenged and encouraged by interactions with other people (this doesn’t all have to be positive, e.g. I have a contrary streak that loves proving people wrong when they say I can’t do something ; ). IMHO the problem is frequently overweighting the time spent working in teams vs. alone. Sometimes this happens through meetings and sometimes through inadequately partitioned environments that require frequent interaction. As an example, one of the best working experiences I have had was working across many time zones on a problem well partitioned by an API. We had remarkable runs of interlocked problem solving (work 8+ hours, communicate findings, come in next day to feedback, new ideas, and sometimes solutions from my coworker doing the same, repeat). Of course, there are also challenges associated with that scenario…

    Back to the paper, did the authors attempt any kind of smart fraction analysis or look at how IQ SD of the group did or did not matter? My hypothesis would be that having more than one exceptional person is a significant factor in maximizing performance (though I am not sure of the size of the incremental benefit of adding the second, third, etc.). Any thoughts on measuring the importance of “collaborators” vs. “disruptors”?

    I guess the results (100% explanatory power of gC in the model) suggest these other factors don’t matter, but that is so counter-experience I have to continue objecting. Is it possible that those factors don’t matter in a systematic enough way to capture without an explicit measurement? An analogy I would use is how shared environment effect is minimal in IQ heritability studies, but the Flynn effect suggests there are significant environmental effects in play between cohorts.

  4. JayMan says: • Website

  5. iffen says:

    Group IQ Doesn’t Exist

    Does this mean that people with Multiple Personality Disorder will not have additive IQ’s?

    • LOL: Frau Katze
    • Replies: @James Thompson
    , @Tim Bates
  6. @res

    I will ask Tim Bates to comment.

    • Replies: @res
  7. “So, if you want a problem solved, don’t form a team. Find the brightest person and let them work on it. Placing them in a team will, on average, reduce their productivity. My advice would be: never form a team if there is one person who can sort out the problem.”

    True that. But it’s nice, when leading, to have one (or two) cohorts with whom one can bounce things off of and/or to check one’s calculations. These too have to be bright people, so that they don’t have to be brought up to speed and can really bring a fresh mind to bear upon the problem. Not so much collaboration as corroboration.

  8. @iffen

    Unfortunately so. However, they usually have separate alibis.

  9. Tim Bates says:

    Nice comment! (+ great blog Prof Thompson!)

    The case you cite (two people informing each other in a problem both want solved, and the solution being bound to the ability of each individual) is a great example of what we found in the lab – the key role of individual ability.

    And the problems of scale – even with small groups – are also important. It is only when the problem is solved (at least in part) and the job is communication or production, that coordination costs pay off.

    Those awaiting reconciliation of Einstein’s Field Equations with the Yang-Mills and Dirac equations by an emergenic-genius of empathic but average folk, seem likely to be in for a long wait 🙁

  10. Tim Bates says:

    Great imaginations on this forum! But that does rapidly get onto other tracks.

    Assuming such a case exists, and both personas are active simultaneously, the best case prediction from our theory is worse performance than either on their own. In this case, working memory would likely be compromised as each competed for consciousness, leaving little room for complex reasoning…

    All very speculative so I fear I’ll leave this puzzle for another research group 🙂

  11. Tim Bates says:

    Many jobs are indeed done better by a group of people obeying a common purpose and playing specialised parts. Seeing this got Herb Simon his Nobel prize (administrative behavior and decision making).

    What we showed was that what underlies group reasoning is the individual IQs of the people working on the problem and that they were nearly always better off not forming a group. Also that previous suggestions that group reasoning was proportional to numbers of women in the group were ill-founded, and that a claimed link of personal empathy (decoding emotions) to group reasoning did not underly the general ability exhibited by the group.

    Hopefully the world is moving to a new norm where science is replicated before it is cited 700+ times and, especially, before it enters the media-policy complex 🙁

  12. “given that the management of clever people is so important for success, care must be taken to let the best thinkers concentrate on the hardest problems. Also, it implies that organizations should pay close attention to the intelligence of their staff members, and very probably to pay more attention to the opinions of their brighter workers.”

    This has been at the core of Chinese governance for 2200 years, and still is. They’ve always regarded good governance as the hardest problem and have always insisted that their brightest people commit themselves to it.

    The 1.4 million young people who’ll take the guokao this year are the cream of the 10 million who took the undergraduate gaokao four years ago who were, in turn, the top 20% of China’s high school graduates who, incidentally, finished their schooling 3 full years ahead of ours in math and science.

    Government is hard.

  13. It is interesting also that groups did not perform better than individuals – a genuine group-IQ might be expected to enable problem solving to scale linearly (or better) with number of subjects. In group-IQ tasks, coordination costs appear to prevent group problem-solving from rising even to the level of a single individual’s ability. This implicates not only unsolved coordination problems, which are well-known barriers to scale (Simon, 1997) but also reiterates the finding that the individual problem-solver remains the critical reservoir of creativity and novel problem solution (Shockley, 1957).

    Bill Gates used to say the IBM’s “masses of asses” approach meant its objective had evolved into the moral equivalent of “build the world’s heaviest airplane”.

  14. Dr. Doom says:

    There are three things you should always remember.

    1) Diversity only benefits diversity.

    2) The only I in team is the coach.

    3) Great Men have teams of advisors to take the blame.

    Anything else is just cliches, excuses, happy talk and stuff you pay other people to deal with.

  15. @ThreeCranes

    Absolutely – it’s good to have people to bounce ideas off and also to think about any potential issues there may be using a given approach to a problem.

    “Find the brightest person and let them work on it”

    In software development (assuming a smallish project) you can sometimes induce a bright guy to work 13 hour days and the weekend solving a problem by sitting down with him, sighing and saying “I just don’t think we can possibly find a fix for (problem) in time for next Thursday, do you?” – then don’t get between him and the keyboard.

    One successful team that bounces ideas off each other and confers a lot is the University Challenge team of Emmanuel Cambridge (feat Jonathan Seagull). When you confer a lot in a pressurised time-limited setting like that, it can trigger the answer in someone’s brain (assuming it was ever there).

    • Replies: @Tim Bates
  16. polistra says:

    Well… you don’t need a team of idea-generators but you do need a team of varied skills. You need one idea-source and several technicians (mechanics, coders, engineers, testers, clinicians, etc) to verify and improve the ideas. And you unquestionably need a salesman or diplomat type to communicate with the managers.

    • Replies: @Tim Bates
  17. TrueEgal says: • Website

    The problems being worked on in the study are not good representations – IME – of projects at work, where having the solo person in a specialised area doing the thing that needs doing will perform better than a group trying to do that thing. Consensus between smart people can be a difficult process.

    I prefer discussing problems with someone who does not understand. By the time I have broken the current issue down into components understandable by anyone, the solution typically reveals itself. Best of all: they don’t try to tell me how to solve it. Ego is not a dirty word.

    • Replies: @res
  18. iffen says:

    Great men with a decent comitatus were pretty good at problem solving for a while.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  19. @iffen

    Often involving troublesome wars.

  20. The wisdom of the crowd of girly men.

    • Replies: @iffen
  21. iffen says:
    @Jonathan Silber

    The wisdom of the crowd of girly men.

    Thomas Gray’s poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751).

    Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
    Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
    Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
    They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

  22. res says:

    I prefer discussing problems with someone who does not understand. By the time I have broken the current issue down into components understandable by anyone, the solution typically reveals itself. Best of all: they don’t try to tell me how to solve it. Ego is not a dirty word.

    Tell it to the duck ; )

    Generally agree with your points. But I do find value in bouncing ideas off of others. Perhaps I should note that a key to all of this is well defined areas of responsibility with some negotiation at the boundaries (though here your “consensus…can be difficult” may rear its head). I think mutual respect is key to “smart people” interactions–especially when there are disagreements. Dunning-Kruger means this can be difficult.

    • Replies: @TrueEgal
  23. dearieme says:

    My old rule of thumb was that a committee was 20 IQ points stupider than its average member.

    • Replies: @Drakejax
    , @David
  24. E e says:

    I want to have a laminated wallet size citation of that study handy for every time someone says that “group work” is important/useful for math/science/whatever learning… The closest thing to a reasonable excuse is that group work happens in the real world. The most annoying for me were the math education classes where we were assigned to groups to solve problems. I was generally a bit “quicker” mathematically than the other group members, so I had to decide whether I would just blurt out the answer(s), try to patiently guide the others to my conclusions (further reinforcing my dislike of ed-school preferred pedagogy), or sit back and see if they could come to the same conclusions in a timely fashion… But, the state of education research is something special, and has been for quite a while.

    (One science group lab I was involved with was very efficient, but not in the way the teacher probably envisioned. One member was good at soldering and assembling the required experiments, another could whip out the equations, and I could write good science papers very quickly with their provided information. Our grades kept up, but I didn’t really learn physics, and they didn’t really learn science writing…)

  25. Drakejax says:

    Or as we said in the army while on staff duty, “none of us is as dumb as all of us.”

  26. Various episodes of The Apprentice, certainly the UK version demonstrate that groups are not cleverer than individuals and they stopped having all men against all women at the point I stopped watching.

  27. Anonymous [AKA "Drafter"] says:

    @E e

    I had the same experience back in the mists of time in 8th grade. I was an excellent draftsman, but couldn’t letter. My friend was very artistic, and excellent letterer, but didn’t have any mechanical sense.

    I’d do two drawings, he’d letter two drawings, and we both earned (so to speak) As in the class.


    I also have found that trying to explain the problem to someone can really help with my insight on a problem.. My co-workers have become used to me trailing off in the middle of an explanation, thanking them, and walking off having resolved my issue. It is interesting to see who follows to get the rest of the explanation.

  28. Colbert is a very smart and talented entertainer. Too bad he became a misguided multi-millionaire who sold out, which is why CBS hired him. He likes to brag that he hires illegals (rather than poor NYC blacks) to clean his mansions. His ratings have tanked as he blasted Trump daily, even though half of potential viewers like Trump. This was not allowed in the past, but CBS is willing to lose millions to help overthrow Trump.

    Colbert’s classic disgrace was when Trump criticized Nabisco for closing a cookie factory in Chicago and moving it to Mexico, firing hundreds of Americans. Fake progressive Colbert mocked Trump for this, laughing at his concern that Americans will lose jobs, and that citizens expect to be protected from a foreign invasion by millions of unwanteds.

    • Replies: @Astuteobservor II
  29. You did cover yourself JT with “on average” I see but what you might have added to the recommendation to appoint the brightest [scil. motivated] person is a description of how far you allow and expect him to come back with an improved definition of the problem and your assumptions about how good the individual will be in seeking facts, ideas and arguments from others. Indeed the Bates and Gupta conclusions you give appear entirely credible to me but for practical advice I would look to a smart management consultant to learn just how working with others is best utilised. (Typically I would suppose that the or the lead consultant would arrange ad hoc consultative groups and one on one interviews to ensure he is answerimg the right question -regardless of what the CEO might have said it was, that all relevant facts are known and that insiders’ ideas and experience ate tapped).

    One use of a committee I note from experience is to help the would-be innovator with a bright idea or new barrow to push. Thus you propose the idea and it gets sent to a committee (of which you should be chairman or at least convener-secretary. Thus you can recruit people to help flesh out the foundation of important facts and to indicate whete difficulties or opposition are to be anticipated. Then, because it is a good idea that you have proposed you hold the third meeting of the committee and,even if someone else turns up, you are able to report back that the committee resolved to support your idea….

  30. El Dato says:

    In 1975, the following was written concerning “lessons learnt” on development of OS/360:

    Mills’s Proposal

    A proposal by Harlan Mills offers a fresh and creative solution. Mills proposes that each segment of a large job be tackled by a team, but that the team be organized like a surgical team rather than a hog-butchering team. That is, instead of each member cutting away on the problem, one does the cutting and the others give him every support that will enhance his effectiveness and productivity.

    A little thought shows that this concept meets the desiderata, if it can be made to work. Few minds are involved in design and construction, yet many hands are brought to bear. Can it work? Who are the anesthesiologists and nurses on a programming team, and how is the work divided? Let me freely mix metaphors to
    suggest how such a team might work if enlarged to include all conceivable support. …

  31. m___ says:

    To use the following analogy,

    Computers live memory, not too different in concept from human memory for the purpose,

    Crystallized memory (the hard drive, the usb stick, as a second,

    The ability to search large databases instantly (processor power),

    Computers having the same kernel (listens to precise exact same coding, how much processing power being of no importance) makes them ideally apt to put into serial set-ups.

    The redundancy and thus the solving of fail situations, where serially connected machines have a single machine fail (raid-setups),

    …make them masters in group collaboration in the sense of the article above (real-time collaboration, not a single machine doing the work, then repeat on a different machine to get replication and confirmation or correction), but real-time atomic processing of a larger problem.

    That is also exactly why humans do not real-time collaborate well (real-time same problem solving), the ‘mono-processor man’ or woman, rarely (never seen in any empirical situation by the commenter), matches by multiplication what a single person can do, the overload of ‘synchronizing’ eating the processing power.

    Humans have different kernels, different processing power, different memory allocations, (different IQ as far as the analogy goes), different ‘coding’.

    The ability for synchronous functioning diminishes as problem complexity rises, as single processors are no longer up to grasp and build upon the given instance of the process and bail out. …bailing out, and hanging on using more processor power then can be freed for problem solving.

    The future: man – machine -man relationships, in that order, man processing, shifting of further processing to the machine , the same or next machine shifting of blocks of the problem to different human(s), and vice-versa could be the closest at hand solution to advance in real-time collaboration.

    Above will solve the problem of collaboration in part, and is done right now, (proven in a negative way by the internet in 99+ percent of it’s workings, the proposed solution of one single human is replicated and blindly copied as a building block to myriad others, adding to the problem of bigger impact of a botched solution), …but in single use cases, it can work to the contrary, …when the individual knodes of the network are of higher quality. Intelligent networks (this is not contradictory) requiring intelligent processors at all nodes, or the network dumbs down .

    To come to this, where man -machine -man (AI), would work, will ultimately depend on the input by man of the initial algorithm, (what to search for, the grounded ethical foundation, the relevancy, all things quality, … etc.), that is what will make or brake AI, render it dangerous, a tool for further derivatives of a negative order.

    Human society as is, now so troublesome, the ‘neutrality of technology’, the uselessness of ‘public intellectuals’, the openness of high quality databases (they are not, but if they were), failure, the failure of the principle of quantity in democracy, it all harks back to ‘common denominator’, in the case of the study: individual IQ.

    The importance of individual ‘processing’ power deciding on the group collaborative performance index.

    Ultimately genome manipulation, tuning the human processor in a way that leaves them individually more capable, gives them more processing power, whether or not a-synchronous collaboration or even synchronous collaboration (eventually with an in-between machine), would be the best and most timely way to achieve collaboration boosts. This is a coming, on different spots in the globe a doing.

    Of course the manipulation will depend on the single individual deciding on the algorithm (probably equal to the common denominators of larger societies) of why, how and what From the feel of where the internet has been going, eye colour will be higher on the priority list then what is behind the eyeballs for some while. Regardless of the difficulties and complexity of the various manipulations.

  32. Anonymous [AKA "HoldThePhone"] says:

    I agree that group dynamics and the social aspect of problem solving can be helpful under the right circumstances. Obviously, the contributors all need to be “smart,” and they also need to have the social skills to reason with one another. But the main benefit (in my experience) is bringing together expertise and experience from different disciplines and forging a solution that none of us could have come up with on our own. As a leader, I frequently play the role of a catalyst to solicit what is needed from the various disciplines and to bring it together quickly and efficiently to a solution that everyone can support. When it works that way, it’s a beautiful thing.

    • Agree: res
  33. Hubbub says:

    According to Alan Sherman, a group is where everyone puts in a color and the result is the color gray.

  34. I am very impressed by this article. Many others will be also. We who live in the real world that is. That said, it’s all a matter of “usually”. Usually a single bright person will be more productive. Usually a group to be less productive. A below average intelligence individual may well have lower productivity than a group of highly intelligent people. An intelligent leader/boss/manager will figure this out.

  35. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    What drives someone like you, Dr. Thompson, to swim against the stream?

    There’s all to lose (prestige and fame, money, power, supporters, important jobs and other honours), and nothing to gain.
    Truth is the most ungrateful of all objects one could choose for his love.

  36. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    Group IQ = IQ of the 1 or 2 most intelligent in the group.

  37. @Carlton Meyer

    you should at the very least check your numbers before using them as the entire basis of your argument.

  38. Pontius says:

    We all know there is no more seamless interaction amongst any group of humans than amongst a group of women. Especially in a work environment.

  39. Melendwyr says: • Website

    I’ve been told that teachers are obligated to spend the most time and attention dealing with the slowest students in a class. What if there are similar issues with groups of people working together? Particularly if a consensus must be reached before action is taken.

  40. @Anon

    Really good whiskey, I suspect.

  41. …Smart groups are (simply) groups of smart people…

    Really? You needed a study to figure that one out?

    Ever have to work with a group of dumb people? They are not very productive!

  42. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    Group IQ or no Group IQ, one’s main identity should be with ethnos, not ability.

    Abilitarianism is fine for professions. We can understand why a German physicist would want to compare notes with an Arab physicist, Israeli physicist, Chinese physicist, Mexican physicist. They are united professionally and scientifically by ability. They know much about science that others do not.

    But does a person have an identity apart from ability or academic/professional knowledge? Yes. Race and nation are extended families. Suppose someone in the family has an IQ of 150. Suppose his parents and siblings aren’t so smart. But does that mean he’s not part of the family? Does that mean he should not identify mainly with family members and identify mainly with high IQ people around the world?

    Abilitarianism or Expertarianism does an efficient and even admirable job of pooling together talents with shared interests and professionalism. But one’s core identity cannot be chemistry, physics, accounting, engineering, and etc. Those are general abilities without specifics. They belong to all peoples with learning and ability.
    One’ s core identity has to be familial, ethnic, racial, and historical. One shares ideas and knowledge with those in the same profession. But one BELONGS to a people of shared nationality, race, culture, and history. Lose that, and you’re nothing.

    If you’re a black boxer and notice that there are many big powerful Slavic boxers, should you identify more with Slavic boxers in the same league than with black folk(especially the ones who aren’t fit for boxing)? No, if you’re black, your main loyalty should be with blacks even if your profession has lots of athletic non-blacks.
    Abilitarianism says the black boxer should identify mainly those with equal ability than with his race and people. So, he should identify more with some elite Slavic boxer than with blacks who can’t make it in boxing.
    Now, in the profession of boxing, the elite boxer will have to deal with elite boxers of all races. But there is life apart from profession, and it is in state-of-being that one’s life has most meaning.
    In the movie THE WRESTLER, we see how empty it is for a man who has lost his sense of family and ethnos. His main identity is with those in the same profession. He helps them, they help him out, but it is a life that has meaning only inside the right. Outside it, he has nothing.
    In our money-and-status-obsessed society, we have gone too far in defining one’s meaning by profession or ability. Everything outside it is seen merely as option when, in fact, family and preservation of race/culture should be the primary obligations of a people.
    Jews in Israel understand this, which is why they have the read-and-breed strategy of maintaining Jewish demography and culture.

    Also, race-nationality-history is vertically unifying. It is open to smart Germans, middle Germans, and dumb Germans. Regardless of ability, they are part of the same collective family. It’s like Michael, Sonny, Fredo, and Connie are all part of the same family in THE GODFATHER despite differences in IQ, temperament, sex, and age. They are united by blood.

    Abilitarianism may be horizontally unifying — anyone with high intelligence and knowledge of advanced physics belongs to the Communist of Physicists — but it is vertically exclusive. If we define a community by high IQ, it means those with lower IQ don’t belong.

    True satisfaction comes from serving one’s race and nation. Israel surely has lots of smart talent, but it also has lots of middling Jews and even some dumb Jews & ignorant Jews who don’t know much about science. But when smart Jews succeed in business and science, their ultimate goal is to serve their own race, culture, nation as a whole. There are blood ties, historical roots, and sense of cultural bond. They find the deepest satisfaction there.

  43. @Anon

    Your pre- and post-Christian ideas are in part teatable by your reference to Israel. The blood ties between Falasha, Ashkenazim and other Jews in Iarael are not strong. The binding ideas can’t have much to do with race.

    I suggest you look to trust and e.g. shared humour for most people beyond the closest of family. A common interest in golf and astrophysics is good for giving a start to the natural human liking for getting on with people, after the equally natural protective suspicion of strangers is broken through (often very easily as in one’s common room or golf club).

  44. Art says:

    A team is a set of individuals with separate defined tasks working to achieve a mutual goal. Teams work when there is a division of labor.

    Teams do not work when everyone is trying to do the same thing.

    • Replies: @Tim Bates
  45. @Anon

    Abilitarianism may be horizontally unifying — anyone with high intelligence and knowledge of advanced physics belongs to the Communist of Physicists — but it is vertically exclusive.

    I doubt that we on the Right have ever particularly cared about exclusion. And if history is any guide, it just becomes part of the multiple layers of identity that we used to build. A man is a man, he is also a baker, he is also a Frenchman and he is also a Freemason. Perhaps he identifies more with an Italian Freemason than with another Frenchman.

    It really depends on what he chooses as his primary identity.

  46. Tim Bates says: • Website
    @Anonymous Nephew

    University Challenge teams like Emmanuel Cambridge would make a good demonstration of our “smart groups are groups of smart people” theory. A smart guess can trigger the answer in another smart brain assuming, as you say, “it was ever there”.

    Which compactly highlights the extraordinary claim for which we found no support whatsoever: The Collective IQ hypothesis (“smart groups just need high empathy”) suggests that the answer doesn’t have to be in the head of anyone. Turns out that the knowledge and reasoning ability of the individuals matters deeply.

    With respect to turn taking, we found no benefit (no increase in problems solved) of turn taking. Communicating partial answers does seem likely to be valuable. I suspect that smart people (maybe all people) do that anyway, so turn-taking isn’t cause of problem solving: what is being shared is, and that’s independent of number of turns.

    • Replies: @Anonymous Nephew
  47. Tim Bates says: • Website

    Thanks for the comment @Art!

    As others have noted, forming groups is invaluable but administration of groups is hard. We hinted at the end of the paper that at scale, the individual IQs of people in administrative positions likely limit group performance.

    The two pieces of this puzzle we highlighted (that groups do far far worse than sum of what each individual would have produced working alone, and that what groups do produce is explained by the mean IQ of the members) are compatible with what you’re saying.

    It would be great to see more work on just how much cognitive ability pays off in large complex groups like companies, governments, and societies. There’s quite a lot of research on IQ and individual income, but quantitative work showing how ability creates group function would be great!

    • Replies: @Art
    , @Art
  48. iffen says:

    It’s like Michael, Sonny, Fredo, and Connie are all part of the same family in THE GODFATHER despite differences in IQ, temperament, sex, and age. They are united by blood.

    Too bad for Fredo that Michael didn’t read your post on the importance of family.

    • Replies: @Anon
  49. I thought it was a vague study. Empathy, intelligence, IQ… Flying in some psychological space bus.

    Depend the nature of problems group or smarter ones are dealing as well the specific skills or abilities they or s/he is very capable to understand and possibly to solve it.

    In the perfect scenario where mathematicians, for example, are analyzing and trying to solve mathematical problems (reflectance of reciprocity between being and subject) still depend the nature of mathematical problem as well the (psycho-cognitive nature of the) group or individual.

    What is hot about this recent conclusion is that

    Supposedly a group of smart people working well and cooperatively can replace only one smarter individual or genius. A politically correct image of smart collectivism versus genius individuality. But it’s depend.

    I believe genius by now is never replaceable as well smart group can work better depending the situation and involved people. Geniuses are not just smarter but also creativer while a group of smarter non geniuses people no have the special ability to produce revolutionary insights.

  50. To solve apparent trivial problems smart group may be enough to solve them but higher is the complexity higher will be the necessity of creativity allied with intelligence.

  51. Art says:
    @Tim Bates

    It would be great to see more work on just how much cognitive ability pays off in large complex groups like companies, governments, and societies.

    The sum IQ of a group is what it is. It is the meeting process itself that is flawed – the high-IQ individual gets lost in the meeting process.

    Solving a problem is always an intellectual endeavor – it can be nothing else. Solving a problem means something will be moved differently than before. Moving things is always a technical intellectual matter. Fixing something means that, first some individual must to have an idea. Leaders help those individuals.

    Meetings meant to intellectually solve a problem have the difficulty of being political. Things are said and not said because everyone is competing for position in the organization. Everyone wants to look good in front of the boss. The solution to a problem arrived at in a meeting is in part technical and in part political. Who gets the credit should not play a part in the solution.

    Another problem with solutions that come out of meetings is that they do not allow the time necessary to contemplate the problem fully. Good thinking takes time. Thinking about something overnight has great value.

    Wise group leaders know who the problem solvers are among their doers. They go to the best technical individuals at all levels in the organization. The problem solvers in all the various disciplines that touch the problem should be consulted. The leader should make the decision.

    • Replies: @Daniel Chieh
  52. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    Michael did everything to take care of Fredo.

    But Fredo was resentful and betrayed Michael.
    THAT is why Michael killed Fredo.

    (Besides, Connie, who pleaded for Fredo, disappointed Michael by going behind his back to let Kay see the kids. If not for Connie’s sneakery, maybe Michael would have spared Fredo.)

    Anyway, the point is Michael did love his old brother and took care of him. The problem was that Fredo’s pride was hurt cuz he was upstaged by his smarter younger brother.

  53. @Tim Bates

    Yes, the answer has to be there, but in the rather artificial, time-limited environment of University Challenge, where people can mentally ‘freeze’, the answer may forever stay at the back of the brain where a team doesn’t confer/make educated guesses i.e. try and shake the answer out. The thought occurs that a similar (and much more pressurised) time-limited environment might be a military staff team in wartime or battle – I wonder what work’s been done on what makes a good staff team? Bound to be loads I’d have thought. Remember Rommel’s(?) remarks on the four types of officer.

    The phenomenon noted by and @drafter – “I also have found that trying to explain the problem to someone can really help with my insight on a problem.”

    Res called it the “rubber duck”, we called it the “Cardboard Analyst” – explain the problem to a colleague, and many times a solution will occur to you in mid-explanation with zero input from the colleague, to whom you then apologise for using him as a cardboard analyst.

  54. Art says:
    @Tim Bates

    Tim Bates,

    There is a wonderful book about leadership and business group dynamics, that illustrates you contention of going to the brains to solve problems.

    Leadership is an Art – Max DePree

    It is the story of the business life of Herman Miller Inc. – a office furniture manufacture.

    It is available on Amazon.


  55. TrueEgal says: • Website

    Now that you mention it, I have been in a group of intelligent people and appreciated the interaction. Esp when bouncing ideas / brainstorming with people who know how to do it.

    When it comes to quick problem solving, finding a person who doesn’t understand has typically been easier than one who does.

  56. @Art

    I like the concepts you outlined there – do you have an anecdote or story of the specific process? Obviously change the names and any sensitive information, but I’m curious to see how this would work exactly in the real world.

    From what I can tell, it feels like its something you’ve observed from empirical experience.

    • Replies: @Art
  57. Polymath says:

    Generally agree, and in my own, well-defined domain of mathematics, able individuals outperform groups of less able individuals. However, there are enough great theorems that were the result of a collaboration, where no member of the group could have done it on his own, that it can’t be the entire story. On the other hand, collaborations on which more than two members played essential roles are very rare, so maybe there just needs to be a distinction between “pairs” and “groups”.

    • Replies: @Wizard of Oz
  58. Art says:
    @Daniel Chieh


    My personal experience is that meetings waste a lot of time. Meetings are good for dispensing information – but not for problem solving. Problem solving always requires good technical knowledge. A meeting is a political affair with winners and losers.

    The most important commodity for every enterprise is change in the way it does business. “Change or die” is conventional wisdom. Leaders see to it that there is quality steady change within their organization. The people with the wisest technical abilities should have a hand in that change. Leaders know who those people are in their organization. Wise leaders first go directly to those people to solve problems involving change.

    People who can generate good solutions should receive compensation for their good work. They are the lifeblood of the enterprise. In a meeting, their good technical ideas will be appropriated by someone with power. Acclaim and compensation will go to the meeting leader – not the one with the good idea. Over time, putting technical people in a political meeting environment, is not conducive to generating quality decisions. No compensation – no new ideas.

    To solve problems, leaders should go directly to those with the best minds.

    See comment 57 – Leadership is an Art – by Max DePree – is a fine discussion of the subject of leaders and problem solving.


  59. I’ve noticed that in the history of physics, discovering important concepts was typically done by one person (almost always a man).

    People like P.A.M. Dirac would have been incapable of working in a group. (Not all physicists were like that).

    What tended to happen, in areas like quantum mechanics (Dirac’s area) is that one person would get concept X.

    Then everyone would learn it, until the next genius would extend it to concept Y. And so on.

    But of course, proving the theories involved experimental physics. Around the late 1800s, early 1900s, some experiments were simple enough for one man and an assistant or so. It soon got more complicated and currently huge teams work at places like CERN.

  60. Or also people even smarter non-geniuses tend to organize collectively speaking via hierarchical way (the most dominant to the less dominant) and not exactly accept opinions of anyone. Organize around dominant and not around great or precise ideas whatever the source. This study have investigated all this variables??

  61. I have always believed that ” 2 heads are better than 1″ was really a way to sell hats.

  62. @Polymath

    Cf. Tversky and Kahneman as described in Michael Lewis’s “The Undoing Project”. Very much a pair rather than part of a group for many years.

  63. Interesting to look at the differences between pairs and larger groups. I suppose the essence of a pair is that each party self-selects, probably on the basis that they recognize like minds, that is to say, minds at a very similar level. This would be very different to a two person group simply assigned to a common task.
    I am aware that even a good experiment won’t match perfectly on all the real world groupings, but I still think the authors have found results with wide application to most contexts. That said, I think the exceptions indicate a more general rule, which is that, given freedom to choose, people prefer to work with other people of similar or slightly brighter ability.

    • Replies: @Art
  64. Klokman says:

    Any man married long enough to have a child enter puberty knows these facts about group IQ.

    • Replies: @dc.sunsets
  65. @Klokman

    Anyone who was the smartest kid in class, who always did 100% of the work for every “group assignment” in every classroom he occupied, also knows the reality of Group IQ.

    I watched my kids navigate this for quite a long time. Group projects in school are and always were a joke.

  66. Art says:
    @James Thompson

    Interesting to look at the differences between pairs and larger groups. I suppose the essence of a pair is that each party self-selects, probably on the basis that they recognize like minds, that is to say, minds at a very similar level.

    The ideal is that they are not similar – but that they are different.

    The most productive pair ever – the Wright Brothers – argued all the time. They had different talents – but shared a common goal. When a problem came up they argued until one of their thoughts was chosen and tested.

    Whether it is a pair or an 11-man football team – groups are only successful when everyone has a separate task and they put their individual talents to work.

  67. my2cents says:

    Judaism is not a race, and according to Israeli Prof. Shlomo Sand are not a “people” . His book “The Invention of the Jewish People” was on the best seller list In Israel for a long time. He subsequently wrote “The Invention of the Land of Israel”
    Judaism is a religion….The Jewish people are tribal so if one were to look for a culture it would be tribalism. They hail from all over the world and lack a common language and a common culture.
    Since 85% of Israelis are Khazars of Eastern Europe who have no historical link whatsoever to the M.E. and are called Ashkenazem… the only Semites in the region are the Palestinians.
    Your use of the Israelis as an example suggests that that you are unfamiliar with their background, their non-existing culture. Because there was no standard way to celebrate Holy days and only the rabbis spoke Hebrew, around 1900 books were written so as to create a standard way to celebrate holy days. It is those little books that unite them around the Globe. Other than that they have nothing whatsoever in common. Very much like Christians around the globe share a religion but not a culture. Jews hailing from Eastern Europe tend to speak Yiddish, but that also differs from place to place.
    What you are describing is a mentality that is very common in the U.S. where Spanish speaking people can live for 50 years, do not command the English language because they live in their very own “Spanish world”….same with every other country . Those who come from abroad and seek to congregate with their own, remain in the same dynamic that prevented them from succeeding in their home country in the first place and so it continues.
    The same is witnessed in Europe where Turkish guest workers have lived for many many years. Yet they do not command the language of their host country and when shopping you will see them walking ahead of their wives who’re “the pack mules” carrying all the groceries. Culture may united people but when entering another culture and having children there who adopt the culture of the host country it causes intense conflict at home.
    You last paragraph about Israel is pure tribal.

  68. David says:

    That rule only works for a certain group size. The exact formula for all group sizes is (Highest IQ + Lowest IQ)/(number of people in group). This has been know for decades.

  69. Bdavi52 says: • Website

    Completely true and obvious to most 4th graders (or however old we are when well-intentioned teachers first begin to impose group-hood upon the innocent & unwary). Sad that we have to have a study to validate common sense.

    Teams are notoriously unproductive, klutzy time-wasters. They do not share a common objective even when they are all united under a catchy Task Force Name or Logo. Team membership is not assigned (most typically) to the best & brightest…and definitely not assigned to those most likely to drive most surely to the Team Goal (if there is such a thing). One is assigned to Teams to represent the best interests of the assigning organization. This means, protecting turf, headcount, budget, scope — all while minimizing or preventing the accumulation of additional responsibilities. In worst cases (and they happen far too frequently) team membership is assigned to the most obstructionist in a deliberate effort to slow or prevent any outcomes which might be deleterious to the assigning organization.

    This is not to say that Teams can’t work. They can. And when they do, it’s because of the reasons described by Thompson, Bates & Gupta: an excellent Leader given a strong team of bright & dedicated individuals who understand & buy into the objective and who also buy into the notion that the generation of positive results by a hard-charging team can be (should be?!) a career-positive thing to do. Sadly & somewhat naturally, this is far from frequently true.

  70. Anonymous [AKA "JohnG"] says:

    I’ve worked in groups on many occasions over the last 30 years on numerous sophisticated projects and in no case was the “group” ever more efficient than have handed development over to a sharp cookie or two on the team.

  71. Tim Bates says:

    Thanks for the comment @polistra.

    Enterprises require specialisation. We’re just arguing that bright people have the ability to perform well in multiple roles, and that empathising with each other doesn’t magic them into existence when individuals lack them.

    But absolutely, Adam Smith’s finding that people in a firm should specialise holds, that’s clear. Because of the generality of ability, bright people bring those skills.

    No doubt factors of personality, interests, and sub-components of ability are important sources of variance too.

  72. Pericles says:

    I thought of this far too late, but just to leave it for history. In the programming business, “pair programming” is often lauded. This means two developers collaborate in front of the screen instead of working in parallel but separately. As far as I know, it’s seldom the case that the collaborators are experts in adjacent, relevant fields or anything like that.

    I assume this result shows that the benefits of doing this are not the obvious ones of improving productivity to more than each separately? (E.g., it could be the gain is in educating the junior partner rather than improving pair productivity while used.)

    There might also be an alternative explanation, as mentioned above: program development is enough drudge work that the gain (whatever it is) comes from more muscle rather than more brains.

    Well, it might be worth taking a look at for someone in the field. I’m not familiar with any studies, but then I’m not an expert either.

  73. Anonymous [AKA "Surname William"] says:

    Psychological Diagnosis
    In accordance with the Gregory James seal, this is the James William Seal, being that our Pa’s grandson’s name is James William.
    (Revelation 13:18) In accordance with the Gregory James Seal, aligned to the Latin 616 (Romans 6:16)
    The Latin spelling of “Nero Caesar” transliterated into Hebrew produces the number 616.
    Let there be a standard. (Jeremiah 50:2, 51:12)
    The notes in the New American Standard Bible say for Revelation Chapter 13 Verse 18” “One early manuscript reads 616.”


    8: William James – Theory: Pragmatism begins by showing that though we of faith whom know that though GOD gives us information by administering of Angels, it may be only a theory in the eyes of the world. Being a theory, according to modern psychology it cannot be proven wrong.
    (Doctrine & Covenants 13:1, 20:10,27:16, 20:35, 84:26, 107:20)

    In trying to prove administering of Angels false, modern psychology would become a failure, and thus being a modern psychologist would be seen as a sign of schizophrenia. Whereupon that is against my religion.

    Pragmatism; “Multiplicative/Divisive”
    James wrote considerably on the concept of pragmatism. According to pragmatism, the truth of an idea can never be proven. James proposed we instead focus on what he called the “cash value,” or usefulness, of an idea.

    Pragmatism along with the James-Lang theory then helps us see what happens in the event of an arrest.

    James-Lang Theory of Emotion; The James-Lange theory of emotion proposes that an event triggers a physiological reaction, which we then interpret. According to this theory, emotions are caused by our interpretations of these physiological reactions. Both James and the Danish physiologist Carl Lange independently proposed the theory.

    A known educator by the name of Carmi Limm, explained that by our teaching that there is only one answer to a question, we limit the mind by stopping it from thinking. This then limits psychological reactions. In courts and mental institutions, with mandatory sentences and singled out diagnoses, there is little to no psychological reaction to interoperate. In the fact of this, emotion in courthouses is extremely limited.
    (Acts 5:27-29, 5:32) (1 John 4:7-19)

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